It’s wild that it is September already. I heard from a friend just yesterday that we have 99 days left to the end of the year. Not sure who’s counting, but time definitely zoomed past way too fast this year.
With the coronavirus situation bulldozing its way in, things probably haven’t gone quite to plan. It’s likely to be the complete opposite: you may have had to change up the way you do things entirely. But that’s also how life is — it changes so rapidly; we just have to keep up and adapt.
Before I go into the tools that I use personally, they actually all have something in common: writing. I truly believe there is power in writing something down. As you try to string together words to express yourself, your goals and what you want, the process of writing itself causes you to think deeply and say things to yourself like – wait, is that really what I want? Personally, writing has helped me tremendously in clarifying my own messy, scrambled, imperfect thoughts.
There’s also something really magical about transferring thoughts to paper. The funny thing is, turning a fleeting thought in your mind to real words that actually exist physically in this world — that works exactly the same way we want to turn our dreams into reality.
I do not claim to have the best answers, but these are the tools I discovered that help me rise above the day-to-day grind of life and clarify my dreams for my own life — so I thought I’d share it with you. I am myself still a work in progress but I’d always appreciate practical tools or tips that really help with the process. Give yourself the permission to dream and hopefully these tools will help you too, especially during these uncertain times.
So, grab a cup of coffee, your favorite pen and journal, and get comfy! Make sure you have a couple of hours of uninterrupted, me-time to do this so you can sit by yourself, quietly reflect and put down those thoughts to paper 🙂
Tool #1: The 10-year plan
Without a known destination and vision for your life, you can’t chart a course or a roadmap. You can’t get there if you don’t know where there is.
“If you don’t know where you are going,
you’ll end up someplace else.” – Yogi Berra
So many of us drift about our lives without taking the time to reflect and think of where we want to be and so we end up wherever life takes us. That often means we are at the mercy of the urgencies of life and of other people’s demands. It’s also essential to set a vision for your life because we don’t have forever. The last thing we want is to look back at the years that have past us by with regret.
Once we’ve got a clear destination in mind, it’s a whole new game. All of a sudden, it’s easier to make decisions – all you have to do is ask yourself, if I do this will it bring me one step closer to my dream life I envisioned?
The thing is, you’re now able to reverse engineer your vision and begin charting a path that will bring you to your dream day ten years from now.
When I first listened to Debbie Millman, founder and host of Design Matters, describing this exercise of creating a ten-year plan for a remarkable life in this podcast with Tim Ferris, I was blown away. It was just SO good. It involves you envisioning the life that you want if you pursued it with a certainty that you will succeed – so dream big and dream without any inhibitions, but be careful what you wish for (because it just might come true!).
Here is a transcribed version, but I will highly recommend you listen to the podcast of her describing how it works in her lovely, calming voice. If you want to jump straight to the part where she talks about this, click on the time stamp 01:31:18 in the interview.
So let say it is Winter 2027. What does your life look like? What are you doing? Where are you living? Who are you living with? Do you have pets? What kind of house are you in? Is it an apartment are you in the city are you in the country? What does your furniture look like? What is your bed like? What are your sheets like? What kind of clothes do you wear? What kind of hair do you have?
Tell me about your pets, tell me about your significant other, do you have children? Do you have a car? Do you have a boat? Talk about your career. What do you want? What are you reading? What are you making? What excites you? What is your health like?
And write this day, this one day ten years from now. So one day in the winter of 2027, what does your whole day look like? Start from the minute you wake up, brush your teeth, have your coffee or tea, all the way through until minute you tuck yourself in at night. What is that day like for you?
Dream big, dreams without any fear. Write it all down. You don’t have to share it with anyone other than yourself. Put your whole heart into it. And write like there is no tomorrow; write like your life depends on it because it does.
And then read it, once a year, and see what happens.
Write a day in your life ten years from now – from the moment you wake up, where you live in, the way your clothes feel like, what happens during your day, what are you feeling – up till the point where you finally wind down for the day and go to bed. Write it in prose, write how you feel and write your heart out. Use your entire imagination for this and use all your five senses to pen down a sensory experience. And then, as Debbie says, see what happens.
Write like your life depends on it, because it does.
Tool #2: Keep an everyday journal – it may change your life.
Journaling, when done right, can be an extremely powerful tool to learn more about yourself – your desires, what makes you happy, what makes you not happy, your worries, your priorities, and the list goes on.
Here are the essentials:
Journaling makes you self-aware and flexes your analytical muscles
Cultivating self-awareness is everything. When you’re able to understand your internal state, your preferences, your intuitions, your strengths and your weaknesses, you’ll be able to better diagnose the root of your problems and cope with your blind spots. And with that, comes the power to fix and figure out your underlying issues.
Conversely, someone who lacks self-awareness would encounter problems in life but doesn’t understand why, and goes on to face the same problems (and pains) repeatedly.
“Keeping a personal journal, a daily in-depth analysis and evaluation of your experiences is a high-leverage activity that increases self-awareness and enhances all the endowments and synergy among them.” – Stephen Covey
Like a muscle, the more you exercise self-awareness and mindfulness, the stronger it becomes. Over time, you come to understand the inner workings of yourself and become more insightful. You will be able to first be aware of any emotional baggage you may be feeling and then deliberately put it down momentarily to analyse a given situation.
We all know this too well – anger, disappointment, annoyance – these emotions usually blind us to logic and the bigger picture. In that petty moment, we focus on things that don’t actually matter.
Instead, try practicing going above yourself to analyse a situation or problem. If this interests you, you may want to delve deeper with Ray Dalio’s Principles.
Journaling clears the clutter from your mind, bringing you into the now
Like meditation, transcribing your messy, cluttered thoughts and emotions to paper can be cathartic. Think of it like a “brain drain”, where you expel all your angry, petty, analytical, thoughtful or whiny stuff in one sitting. As if calling your wandering mind to attention, writing in that moment helps you engage actively with your thoughts, your mind and your being.
Whenever I have a lot on my mind, I would take a painfully long time to fall asleep. Sometimes, I would just give up and get out of bed and abandon sleep altogether for the next one two hours or so. Now, I turn to journaling before bedtime – especially on days when I have a lot of stuff going on in ny mind – and it really helps me get rid of the noise inside my head and my heart before I sleep.
Some prefer to do this first thing in the morning. Waking up and writing freeform – in a stream of consciousness – whatever comes to mind is also known as Morning Pages, derived from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.
Try it out and see what works for you!
Write this one thing daily: “I am grateful for…”
By the very act of writing what you’re grateful for each day, your mind (and heart) opens up in new places you never thought existed. It switches up your whole perspective on things and fills your body with positive energy.
Practising gratitude regularly can also be powerful because it changes your entire being from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance. The world immediately feels much kinder and suddenly you feel a sense of empowerment that you can do anything.
Writing prompts to help you get started with journaling:
How do I want to feel today?
What do I want to receive today?
Who do I want to be today?
What do I want to give today?
What are my priorities today?
Today, I am grateful for…
What made me happy today?
What was great about today?
Tool #3: Choose your pain and set up your system.
Choose your pain
Goal setting is not just about imagining what rewards and glamour you want to enjoy, but rather, what pain you’re willing to endure. Because it’s the sum of what you do daily that will allow you to reach your goals. And that process is long, arduous and definitely not always fun. In fact, it’s pure down-in-the-trenches sort of hard work that you need to keep showing up to do.
- If you want to be a gold medalist, your goal is to win tournaments. Your chosen pain is training and pushing yourself to the limits every day to beat your performance yesterday.
- If you want to be a writer, your goal is to write and publish a book. Your chosen pain is writing every day, even when you don’t feel inspired, or feel like you want to tear all your hair out. You write a page even when you experience writer’s block. Slowly, page by page, you have a book.
- If you want to be an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million-dollar business. Your chosen pain is to try and market the heck out of your business every day, even when you’re not sure what will work. You problem-solve, prioritize, analyze and pivot every day until you get there.
Set specific goals
You’re 2 to 3 times more likely to achieve your goals if you get painfully specific – when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. A powerful hack from James: stack an existing habit to your new habit to make it stick.
Example #1: I will write for 60 minutes in my home office at 8am every morning after I make my morning coffee. [existing habit]
Example #2: I will email 10 potential clients for business development at my dining room table at 11am before I eat my lunch [existing habit].
Example #3: I will write in my journal what I am grateful for in my bedroom every night after I brush my teeth [existing habit].
By the way, it’s also essential to write your goals down – whether you type it out or you write it down with pen and paper. Writing something down sends a signal to your brain that this is important, and can give you the benefit of positive affirmation.
Build your system
Align your environment with your goals: Many of our decisions are “defaulted” by the things we have around us. If your goal is to cut down on sugar, but you have a lot of cookies and cake in your pantry, then you will be likely to default to eating sweet treats. Instead, throw out everything sugar laden and replace them with healthy snacks. That way, your only options around you are healthy snacks. Suddenly, your goal is easy to accomplish.
Track and measure your goals: Quantitate everything in numbers as much as you can, because numbers don’t lie and give us an accurate picture of our progress. Don’t give a rough ballpark figure, actually go and check! Don’t say: I have around 5 to 10 clients now and my goal is to get 3 to 5 more. Write specific numbers instead. The things we measure are the things we improve. When you start tracking how many clients you have, you get more clients. When you start tracking how many words you write daily, you’ll write more.
Note: this section is inspired by James Clear and if you liked it, I would highly recommend giving his article on goal-setting a read.
Hopefully you will find these three tools useful! In the meantime, I hope you find what you’re seeking <3
Jolene lives for avo toasts, yoga and is a little more OCD than she cares to admit. She never fails to start her day with morning coffee and is very partial to flat whites. She is obsessed with interiors and homeware, and is currently taking her RYT 200h yoga teacher training course as an aspiring ashtangi.